Today is November 29, 1995, and this is an interview with Dr. John Johnston, of Pulaski County, and he has volunteered to do some interviewing to share with us his experiences as a principal at several schools in Pulaski County.
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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your birthplace, family background, and personal interests?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Let me say that I have always wanted to center my career in Virginia. And was born and raise in southwest Virginia in Smith County and Marion. I went to high school there and finished, and went to Emory and Henry College in Southwest Virginia. Uh, finished that and went to University of Virginia. Was in law school for two years at the University of Virginia but it just didn't seem to be my cup of tea. I wasn't doing well, I wasn't that successful, and the interest certainly wasn't there, as I thought it would be. So I was there, I switch to the School of Education, and worked on a masters degree, which I got from the University of Virginia. Then went to Norfolk, my wife and I moved from Charlottesville to Norfolk where I taught in a junior high school or a middle school, sort of, I taught 7th & 8th grade, and did some high school work at nights, and in the summer. Worked there for three years in a number of schools in grades 5, 6, and 7. After three years, I wanted to become an administrator. I felt like that was an interesting part of the profession, so I began to look around a little bit in Southwest Virginia for an administrative situation. Uh, and luckily I found one in Pulaski County, which was close to where our parents lived, and was also far enough away that we could be on our own. So, I did that beginning in 1964.
Q: Ok, that sounds good. On number two, Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher? Principal?
A: Well, I really had completed my masters degree before I ever taught full-time. I did student teaching, and concentrated in social studies, uh, primarily, and taught social studies a couple of years, and then taught 5th grade for a year. Uh, but I had a lot of preparation, uh, because I had already had my masters degree by that time. And, uh, that included the number of administrative courses, which, uh, kind of wet my appetite to be an administrator, and, so, I felt like that was really where I would be interested in going, and as it turned out, I was right.
Q: So then I assume this previous experience with those courses is what led you into Question #3, what motivated you to enter the principalship?
A: Yeah, that was primarily it. My experiences and watching some role models and seeing what principals did, uh, as a teacher. And I felt very confident that, you know, I could handle that kind of a situation.
Q: Ok, on #4 Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? Has it changed over the years?
A: Well, I think I began with a feeling that I was very confident that I could control the educational program and the instructional program and the curriculum. I could control all that, in the best interest of students. That I needed people to kind of leave me and the teachers alone, so that we could do our work. And, was a little hesitate to really involve parents or even communicate with them as I should. I developed an attitude that was different from that, as I went along, because I found out that parents can play a valuable role, and so as I progressed over the years, I think I made much more use of parents' involvement and volunteers, and that kind of thing than when I started out.
Q: Along the line of your instructional philosophy, can you add a little bit about how that evolved?
A: Well, I felt like that, at one time I really didn't see that there was anything wrong with dividing classes up and having a number of teachers and a number of different classes. As I went along, I found out there was a lot of time wasted then, that was not really time on task. And I felt like that rather than the one teacher and one subject and another teacher and another subject, that perhaps teachers could team together, to come up with, uh, subjects and teaching, and students would not have to be shuffling around going from one classroom to another. And lockers and that kind of thing, I felt wasted a lot of time. So, really I was not involved in actually curriculum and instruction as much as I relied on others to do that, such as teachers, and supervisors, and those kinds of people. I kind of felt like that I wanted to be a facilitator toward good instructional leadership.
Q: I'm a little curious about how you developed these team teaching groups, and if the scheduling of time, how do you work that out?
A: At the time we begin to design a new, uh, uh, structure for Pulaski County. We felt like that we needed to go to a middle school program, that we needed to go to early childhood programs, and it kind of left students in the 9 and 10 year old age bracket, and the 4th and 5th grade students, kind of without a direction. So, I tried to help develop a program for those people. In developing a program and looking at that age group. It was felt like that they had been in school long enough that they knew how to, be in school, cooperation, and how to behave. They were not yet old enough to be like the smartalics, and the people who knew it all, like you find maybe in middle school. And so they would be very easy to work with. And we found out that teachers felt like they could work with other teachers. And if they had a very good concept about themselves, they could cooperate, and not be afraid to show that they were good teachers. They didn't have anything to hide, and they didn't have any doors to close, and so we began to look at the open school system. The open school philosophy. And we felt like that because the teachers wanted to do it, and because the students were who they were, that we needed to assign a building, so that we could offer children an overall program, which would enable them to successfully enter the middle school. So we took a small group of students, we took about a hundred students, and put four teachers with them, and left them in a program for two years. And the teachers were able to group within their team structure, and move children along at their own pace. And, uh, yet children in different areas in learning difficulty could still have social benefits, uh, in their particular teams. The teams had names, there were team names, team colors, there were team mascots. Children were recognize a great deal for their achievements. Uh, we used celebrations and occasions to help children improve their self-concept and to find out what it meant to be young people.
Q: Did this work well also with students with special needs?
A: Well, it did at the time, uh, what we did with our children in special education, we centered them a great deal in the opened space. We did enclose children who were emotionally disturbed in an area by themselves, so they could not be influenced too much by the noise and surroundings, and a lot of the changes. We felt like those students needed to have particular routines, and particular patterns of learning that they felt comfortable with. And that would help to meet their particular difficulties. So, some of the children were in some of our trainable classes and that kind of thing were in the open space.
Q: That sounds very interesting and innovative. At that time, especially. What experiences in your professional life influenced your management philosophy, would you say?
A: Well, I have been privileged to witness and be a part of different organizations and groups along the years. I think I have had some influence on it. I worked very hard at one time in the Virginia Department of Elementary School Principals. And was president of that organization for a time and got to meet a lot of principals, and got to see a lot of leadership styles. I also participated on the town council for a number of years, about 14 years, as a matter of fact. And got to help them with the decision making process, which I think taught me some skills. Plus, I am on several bank boards. And you get to see a different side of folks, when you get talking about their money, uh, that you don't always see when you are talking about public funds and that kind of things. So, it has all been very helpful to me to try and develop a style that...
Q: Were you part of the town council while you were a principal.
A: Yes, that was the 12 years.
Q: Interesting, that is very interesting. What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: Well, I think that first of all we tried to inservice teachers, to get them to feel good about what they had to do. Get them to feel good about themselves and have them develop a personal style which they felt comfortable with. Then, too, there was a lot of opposition at the time that we established the new school, because we had carpet on the floors, which parents had never heard of. We were air conditioned, we had no walls, very few windows, so it was all very new to the parents. And very soon after we began to learn who the parents were that felt a lot of skepticism about the school, we began approaching them, and made them a part of the planning process. And when we began to involve the parents, especially those vocal parents, we found out that what they really were saying, was, we don't feel comfortable about something we don't know now. And so we began to teach them, and to get them to learn and understand about what we were trying to do, and then we got some of our best supporters and really didn't have much backlash, when we opened the school. And a year or so after, we opened, we were getting requests for students outside our school, to come to our attendance area, and they all felt like it was a good situation.
Q: What do you think caused feelings about the school that were negative before you were able to talk to them?
A: Well, I think they felt not knowing was their biggest problem. They knew what a eggcrate school looked like. Where you had long hallways and doors and classrooms going up and down the hallways, and we didn't have that. And they could see the school being built, and it was a large, open space. And when you have 50,000 square feet, that you kind of roam around in, they felt like that could be a real problem, and so they were worried about noise, and all this kind of thing.
Q: Ok, that sounds good. On number 8, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon you as a principal? How do these differ from today's expectations?
A: Well, I think today's expectations are more stringent, more demanded then they were during the bulk of my principalship. Uh, I think there are so many more demands on teaching and administration then there use to be. Uh, through a number of sources, school boards, parents, professional groups, teachers, you have all these things that are setting demands on the principalship, that we had, but we didn't have that many of them, I think. And it was, has increasingly gotten more.
Q: Ok, that's good. Uh, On number 9, Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques that worked for you. Give an example of an incident where your approach failed.
A: Oh, my leadership techniques were, in some respects, reactive, because I kind of been faced with the situation and then work to meet the demands of that situation. But, I tried to use many of the techniques that I learned in both at the University of Virginia and VPI. To give me some ideas, and some ways of dealing with people. Uh, I think that that was really the best thing in my favor is that I felt really comfortable dealing with people, whether they be parents or teachers. Uh, administrators on a higher level, or school boards. I didn't really worry too much about them, dealing with those folks. Uh, an incident in where I used the approach that did not work, uh, hm, course I know everything I did didn't always work, uh, I guess we at one time, when we put four teachers with 100 children, and set up our teams, we ran that program for four years, and then the teachers said that they did not really want to keep the same group of children for that long of period of time. So, we did a lot of studies, and a lot of work, and tried to figure out what the results would be. And we backed off from that, and we felt like that we really needed to do what the teachers felt more comfortable with. And so, the idea I had of leaving them in a group for two years, really was not, I don't know that it failed, but it ceased to work after a period of time.
Q: Ok, How do you feel about school-based management? What changes would you make in organizational arrangements?
A: Well, I feel very strongly that schools were not given enough say in the financial management of the schools. Uh, many of them are today being brought in the, the mainstream of school finance, but in my day, we were faced with not that much financial support. School boards did not give the schools money, per say, they would provide books and some equipment and materials, and that kind of thing. But, if we felt like we had special needs, instructional needs, we in many cases had to raise that money ourselves, or go to the PTA. Uh, I think school boards and superintendents were fearful that if you give teachers that much leeway and try to involve them in that much, they might make mistakes. Uh, I think their thinking is going by the boards now, and I think teachers are able to make decisions which instruct their, which affect their instruction. And not all the teachers really love to make detailed decisions, but I think they sometimes like to be included in on the process.
Q: Please discuss your involvement with civic groups and other community organizations.
A: I feel like principals have an obligation to be involved in their community and to let their children and their parents see them in a community setting outside of the school. I feel very strongly that parents need to serve as a role model. That they are held up to a higher standard of ethical behavior. And that they need to make their school community, their community. I know a lot of administrators do not feel that way, but I think it's an old fashion idea that one has some value in our system today. When we are trying to establish attitudes, and some standards, and I feel like that my belonging to churches in the community, and Jaycees, and city groups, and, uh, those kind of things, I think it was important to show that kind of community support.
Q: Do you feel a home-school gap exists and that more parental involvement is necessary?
A: That is a tough question, because you want to involve a home as much as possible, but many times the home, either doesn't want to be involved or they can't. Uh, when you have a situation in which most of your parents both have to work, to provide a living, a comfortable living for their families, they don't have time to be involved in the schools as much as you would have them be. So, yeah, I think there is a home school gap, but I am not really sure what you can do about it, uh, short of having more people that are involved in the social services type of work.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel.
A: Uh, I was lucky in that I had an assistant principal the biggest part of career. Uh, and in the first school I had was in for 10 years with grades 5 through 7. The assistant principal and I, kind of worked together with his spending, probably, 99 percent of his time with discipline, uh, in the office. And my spending about 50 percent of the time with discipline. Uh, and then when we got into the open school, the assistant principal in the open school spent 100 percent of her time with instructional program. And even more time than I did. We both did evaluations, and in classroom screenings, and teacher evaluations, but her primary role was curriculum and instruction. I think that is the role that they really ought to have.
Q: From what I have heard too, I think that is what assistant principals would like to do, do you feel that by having the open school setting, you were able to give the assistant principals the chance to use those skills that way more?
A: I really, uh, I think the open school setting was part of it. The biggest part of it was something that we didn't have anything to do with it, and that was the 9 and 10 year old kids were sweethearts, so they are easy to work with. And there is less discipline and those kids still have a load of learning, and so you want to try to build on that, and make that a real benefit in the organization, so I think that was what allowed us to focus her attention on instructional.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?
A: Well, you have your whole effective school movement, I suppose, and, uh, a lot of that comes under in question, because of methodology, and those kind of things. But, I really feel like that the strong schools have a strong principal, uh, or a leader, who can serve as a leader, uh in all facets of the school principalships. Who knows how to delegate, and who knows how to accept responsibility. Uh, I think these schools that are successful, are ones which provide for the teachers all that they need to do, to feel that they can do an successful job. If they need materials, or supplies, or books, or whatever it is, that they be provided those things, so that they are comfortable with the job they are doing. Uh, I think good schools have community support and parental involvement, and make the best use of their personnel.
Q: Sounds good. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends.
A: Uh, when I first went to Central Elementary School, we set up the first special education class, that we had in the county. I have to say, we did that, not so much out of a desire to help those children who had special needs, but it's done out of a premise that felt like we needed to keep those special students from interfering with the other students as they tried to do the level of work they were in. So, you know, I'm not real proud to say that, but I think that was true. Then, when we isolated one, we isolated those people in special education classes, we begin to offer some materials and some training that were a help to them. From there, you get into all the specialized special ed classes. Uh, I don't know, you know, special ed. is something that needs to be dealt with. I know that the students need to be in a least restrictive environment, but I'm not too sure that all, that the idea of inclusion in as many cases, as it has been practice today, is that good for those students, nor is it that successful. So, you know, you have to look at the money being provided, and this kind of thing, and I think that many times inclusion is based on a situation where we can save money, but not provide any special services for these children, so let's put them back in the regular classroom. And I think that does a disservice not only to special ed. kids, but the regular kids too.
Q: Would you give your views on the principle of free public education?
A: Well, I feel that, you know, there are several facets to that question. You could look at it from a home school teaching thing, private school setting, home school setting. You could look at from a point of view that the state and local school divisions need to skin their own snakes, and provide for their own system. Uh, I heard a statement made that, uh, that schools did not want the state to come in and dictate a lot of curriculum and instruction decision. Uh, you don't hear them say that when they send money, and it seems like to me that if localities are not going to provide services, then the state certainly needs to go in and do that. I think that in many areas of our state, uh, the state needs to really come and do some funding and set some standards, and improve education in some school districts, that are not able, whether they be willing or not, but they are not able to financially provide for those school systems. So, I think anybody who argues really against, is begging the question. They are either from Fairfax County or they are from some place that has plenty of money. And, uh, it's a question that needs to be addressed.
Q: So you do feel in smaller school districts this is more of a major call.
A: Yeah, I think so. I would say in more of your rural or less populated schools.
Q: Would you describe what your relationship was with the superintendent?
A: Uh, I basically had the same superintendent for most of my tenure. He was a former coach, he had been a high school assistant principal, and, uh, he took over from an older gentlemen who hired me. And the new principal, the new superintendent, uh, tried to follow a lot of the older fellows principles. And I can remember asking Mr. Krausser, who was the older superintendent, I said, "What are my hours as a principal. I need to know what you want me to work?" And he looked at me and he said, "Son, you need to work as long as it takes to do the job". And I kind of always remember that and so I got away from doing that too when I worked for the new superintendent. And I told him that was what I expected, if I needed to come back at night, or work on Saturday morning, I would. But if I needed to do something, go downtown at 2:00 p.m., I would do that too, if I felt like I could leave the school. And so that has worked out real well. And I had a good relationship with the superintendent. There were a lot of his principles that I didn't fully agree with. I wish he would of been less stingey with the money. Uh, I wish he had believed a little bit more in administrative workshops and training and in teacher workshops and training then he did. But, overall it was a regular experience for me, and I appreciated knowing him, and having him, when I looked at some of the other superintendents I could have been working for.
Q: What kind background did he have as far as training in education, the superintendent?
A: He was, he had a masters degree. That was the basis of his training.
Q: Would you discuss your relationship with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations?
A: Well, our school board in Pulaski County, were such that, they review policy and stayed pretty much away from the day- to-day operation. Superintendent, more or less, ran the show in our school system, and he would let the school board know, and maybe keep them informed. But, most of the decisions that they might of made, or could have made, uh, on day-to-day operations, he did for them. I didn't have a lot of contact with the school boards. School boards were more or less in the background. Now this is not so in terms of the last 4 or 5 years. Uh, and after the 90's started, I think that school boards began to flex their wings a little bit more and get more involved in day to day operations. And I think that we have elected school boards you are going to find that some of the people running for elected school boards, will, of course, run on programs and platforms, and have more specific axes to grind.
Q: Do you think it is good that they're more involved or do you think it is more important to let the superintendent, uh, run the program, and for the school board to stay more involved in policy.
A: Well, I am kind of the old school. I feel like the superintendent and his staff need to do the running of the school, and that who the school need to look to. I think the school boards can dictate policy and to come up with standards and policies, but I really think they should leave the daily operations and basic run of the school to who are hired to do that.
Q: That sounds good. You said a little about your schedule, and I think from what you just said, I understand that you think it is important for a schedule to be a little bit flexible, and trust to be given to the principal, so that he can...
A: Yeah, I think that is happening more than it use to. I think principals feel like they can deal with things outside of their school, and they don't have to be nailed down to the floor the whole time. I think it is important that your principal be at the school the biggest part of the time. I think that he should be, he or she, but I think that in terms of having a need to visit a parent, uh, to make a home visit, to go to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, to help make some policies or plans, in that regard. I think those things are necessary and would require, uh, schedule changes to meet them.
Q: Did you find as a normal schedule, you have to spend more than an 8 hour period of time at the school?
A: Oh yeah, many of times I had a schedule of being at the school about 7:30 and then leaving at 4:30. So, uh, you know, not going out of the building all day. And this might go on for many days or weeks, uh, so the schedule was pretty much longer to go on.
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced and explain how you coped with them? Describe the toughest decision you had to make.
A: Uh, I know that when I first came to Central School, it was a big school, they had over, about 650 students. They were grades 5, 6, and 7. Three hundred of the students were 7th graders, and it was the first year that we had integrated. So all the decisions involving that situation, were opened to suspicion on a part of the black community, and on part of the white community, in some cases. So, in terms of trying to make sure that the element of fairness was involved in decision making, uh, it required, I think a lot of thought, and, uh, we tried to do the best we could under difficult circumstances, but things went well, and that regard, and we really didn't have that many problems.
Q: About what year was that?
A: 65, somewhere along that area, 65, 66.
Q: And that was in Pulaski?
A: Uh hm
Q: Mainly at the middle school?
A: And the Central School.
Q: Can you give us some examples on how you tried to handle some the issues of fairness with this integration situation.
A: Uh, well, we, uh, tried to deal with parents, some of the black parents, get their ideas on what they felt like their students should have in the way of elements of fairness. Uh, if they felt like they should be in classes with other blacks or they wanted them in classes with predominantly blacks, this kind of thing. Uh, how they felt like we tried to be sensitive to their desires on part of some teachers. If it didn't get to be a big problem, we would try to schedule those teachers that they felt more comfortable with. Uh, it was a day to day thing, and we tried to explain programs to them so that they would know, uh, our way of doing things, and what we had in mind, and we wouldn't be surprised about anything. So it was a work through situation.
Q: And you felt in the long run you were able to solve most of the problems?
A: Yeah, I think, I think, most of the parents felt good about what we did, and supported us.
Q: How did you integrate individual needs with organizational goals? And I think this goes back to some of our managerial styles and history of the development of leadership. Can you explain that?
A: Well, I felt very strongly that I wanted teachers to feel comfortable and feel like they were making a contribution. And to feel like they were a say in many of the matters. I also felt it was important to know that I felt like that organizational goals really needed to be kept in mind, and needed to be adhered to. Even at the sacrifice of some individual goal. Uh, this was necessary, because I felt like if we were called on as a school, or if I was called on to defend what we were doing, at least I could say, we have done it under the policy as they existed. And we did not try to go outside of those policies. So, in that case, maybe it was overly one sided toward the organization part, but then again we tried to live within the confinements.
Q: Did you feel that the teachers at that point, at least in time, agreed with you and cooperated on the...
A: I felt that most of them did. Yeah, I think that we had very few that, people who didn't feel like they couldn't under that situation.
Q: Did you work under the assumption that organizational goals take precedence over the needs of individuals? Did you start out with that view or did you develop gradually into the feeling that organizational goals were important?
A: Well, I think it was more in my early part of my career, than it was in my later stages. Uh, the later stages the policies that we had to work under we help formulate them ourselves. And so, it really wasn't something that was handed down, it was a process whereby we came up with some of the things that we had to live with, and, so it was easier to follow those things, and to meet individual needs. When you help them to make the policies, then it is if you had policies handed down.
Q: When did you start feeling that you were able to do this, about what year?
A: Uh, I had probably been in the principalship, uh, 10 or 12 years. Uh, I really felt that it was more necessary to develop a style where individual needs were observed, when we went to the 4 and 5 school. And I felt like it was more of a key to our success.
Q: Did you discover this by trial and error, or had you read and become informed...
A: Well, I think probably both. Uh, but it was probably really through trial and error, uh, but I had some advanced knowledge of what was needed. I had finished my degree program then.
Q: So, if you did not have that background in education, do you feel you would have come to the same growth process?
A: Probably not as quickly, maybe not as successfully.
Q: And you feel then that some of your successes, have been due to this training?
Q: Have you observed some other principals without this same amount of training who suffered and struggled more?
A: Well, I think, yeah, I have seen principals who were basically good people, and had some real good ideas, and some good leadership skills. Uh, but they, for instances, maybe couldn't delegate authority. And tried to do a lot of the things all themselves. And this was impossible, it led down to a breakdown of other skills. Some principals who tried to be very dictatorial and authoritative, even when they felt some failure, I think maybe was not successful.
Q: How did you organize teamwork and develop collaborative skills in your teachers? I think you mentioned the open school procedure was one way. Was that the main way?
A: Yeah, the workshops and the inservice that we gave the teachers in team teaching in public schools and development of curriculum for those things. All of that contributed to a team approach and we felt like it was real good.
Q: Did you feel that you were able to keep that team approach going, even after the open school rooms were closed more?
A: Well, we kept it, the biggest part of the time that I was principal there. When I left, uh, to go into the Central office, uh, the principals that came in and that time a number of teachers had turned over, and so they were feeling some stress, I think, in having to be, having to teach in the open space. Many of them didn't have the positive attitude about themselves, so they were a little hesitate to show off their wear, so to speak, and so they felt more comfortable in a closed environment. And I think that led to a lot of the breakdown in the open attitude.
Q: Would you tell us what your total key to success as a principal?
A: Well, I think, uh, I think my trying to work and understand people, uh, to understand the attitudes and the thinking of people that I had to deal with. Uh, I tried to be a good listener, uh, and to take time to understand, and study the situation before I reacted to it quickly and in a negative way. So, I guess that would probably be...
Q: Do you feel if a person has people skills and listening skills they can overcome some of the other areas that are difficult to deal with?
A: Yeah, I really do. I think if they learn how to work with people, and get people to help them in a delegated type of situation, that they could overcome those kind of things. I never felt like I was that strong in instruction, but I felt like I had people around me that were strong in instruction, and could help those that needed to be helped. And, they could also, you know, I could find help and deal with people who could provide the assistance that teachers needed. And then I felt like that if I provided all the materials and the equipment and the things that teachers need to do a good job, then that was my primarily purpose as opposed to being either, to go into a classroom and give a 10 minute demonstration.
Q: So, basically, uh, the importance to being a generalist, I think, would be...
A: Yeah, that was my rationalization.
Q: Sounds like that would be important. Because you couldn't be trained necessarily in every skill. Please discuss your professional code of ethics, you have mentioned some about that and dealing with the community and parents, and give examples of how you applied it during your career?
A: Well, I think, uh, and I have disagreements with some of my fellow administrators over this kind of thing. I felt like that our particular profession in our job created certain standards for us that were higher than maybe would be for the general public. Or, administrators that might work at the hospital, or administrator that might work in the furniture factory. This kind of thing. And I felt like that we had an obligation not to do those things that would be frowned upon in public. I remember the old code of ethics for preachers and teachers and that kind of thing. But, I really think that some of that is applicable for today, in terms of maybe, uh, public drinking, or using certain language, or presenting oneself in a undesirable role model atmosphere. I think that, you know, I may do some things that would be frowned on, but I don't do them in public.
Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship? If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepared yourself for a principalship?
A: Well, that is a tough question, because I have had a lot of formal training, and I think a lot of it has done me a lot of good. I think my doctoral program at VPI helped me a great deal, because it gave me experience in different areas that I would've had otherwise. Organizational skills, and organizational behaviors, uh, theories of administration, those kind of things were, I think, important to you. In trying to help me frame a way of thinking, and a desirable methods of dealing with people and with schools and so, uh, that was a great deal of help. Then, uh, I think that my professional activities with elementary school principals throughout the state of Virginia, there were 1,200 of those people, and I got to know a lot of those people and talk to them and discuss problems with them, and found out ways that they dealt with things and so it was a real idea exchange for me. And I learned a great deal from fellow principals. I don't think I would change too much of doing it again, if I had to do it again.
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to try to relieve stress, and what do you do now to relieve stress?
A: Uh, I think, I tried to keep from taking home a lot of the problems that I had, I tried to stay in school long enough that I could deal with the problems that I had, so when I got home I let those family type things take over and kind of get rid of any of the professional vibes that I had throughout the day. And then I had other things to keep my mind off of school. Chamber of Commerce things, and, uh, club things, and golf and churches, and those kind of things, kept my mind off of school all the time. So, I felt like I was able to separate the things.
Q: Did you ever feel like you could not get everything in, that you were over scheduled?
A: Oh, yeah, I felt like that, yeah. Uh, that has happened many times, and I think that one needs to learn to schedule themselves in such a way that they allow for themself free time, so that they are not going from one thing to another, and they don't have 6 different times schedules to meet in a day. And one way of doing that, is just to learn to say no. I think you've got to, I found that very difficult to do, but once I started doing it a little bit, it got easier.
Q: Ok, since you have had time to reflect on your career, although I am beginning to wonder, because you had a lot of outside activities there, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses. You have mentioned a few already, I think I could pick out a few, but could you tell me a few strengths and...
A: Uh, as I said, I think people skills were strong points with me, and being able to react to situations without becoming too emotional about it, and I'm kind of a low key emotional person. Or help in terms of weaknesses in the principalship, I wish I had been a stronger instructional person. I wish I could have been able to deal with some of the subject matter problems that teachers had. I felt like in many respects they were dealt with, but I wasn't able always to deal with as much as I would have liked, and, uh, hm, I don't know, I don't have a lot of concept about strengths and weaknesses, I was kind of middle of the road, moderate, I suppose.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about what circumstances led to your retirement decision?
A: Well, it, my wife and I took early retirement at the same time, back in 91 because we had, we, it came along. We both had 30 years and we were 55 years old, so that was the perfect age to receive maximum benefits. And they added 5 more years onto retirement. And when they figured it, based on your rest of your salaries, and that kind of thing. We were both in shape to where we couldn't really get anymore benefits, had we continued to work. So, we agreed that it was the best thing for us to do. Turn our interest to other things, and turned out to be a good decision.
Q: What advice would you like to pass on to possible future principals?
A: I think principals are going to have to be more proactive in terms in helping to set their own, uh, schedules. And by that, I mean, the demands being made on the principalship today are just becoming completely overwhelming. So many of things principals are doing today are not receiving enough attention today to be done well. And, so I think principals are going to have to become proactive, and talking to school boards, and talking to school superintendents and dealing with things that could be done to alleviate some of the terrific stresses and pressures on them. And, so I would tell them to become active, professionally and, uh, to uh, operate with other groups of administrators, to see if they couldn't alleviate this a little bit.
Q: So you feel like they have to do this as a group with other administrators to get support.
A: Probably, the most success would come from being with other administrators. A lot of time principals are hesitant to join others and be willing to lend their name to a group, and this kind of thing. But I think it's a, to do that they find that they are a lot stronger when they operate as a group.
Q: Do you think that school boards really are aware of the pressures that administrators are facing today?
A: No, I don't really think they have a complete knowledge of that. I think that they, it would be helpful for them to know. Uh, things, I think that would be helpful to follow the principal around. And I don't know that they could get a idea, even if they did that, but I think the principals are really out to help them inform school boards, and to work with them so that school boards get a better attitude, better view.
Q: Is there anything that you would like to add, that I missed with the questions, that you could think of in your experiences?
A: Nah, I think it has been very comprehensive, very completed, and I was glad to pass on what few things that I feel has help me, in order to give somebody else a chance to try those things, and see how they work. I think it helps sometimes to be a risk taker. But you really need to temper that with common sense and good judgement and what you know through experience is the right thing to do.
Q: Ok, I have one final question that was tied to one question before. Did you see organization as a hierarchy where everyone is subordinate to the principal? And if not, did you feel that you changed your view on that over time?
A: Well, I felt like that the teachers in my school knew that I was, uh, in charge. I think that they knew that the responsibility was mine, and that I accepted the responsibility. But that also wanted them to participate with me in a cooperative effort, so that they felt like that they were in a position to do their best job. And to be most successful in teaching children. And, of course, the primary purpose for all of this is that we provide the children with the very best education that we can give them. So, any efforts that we make, with that purpose in mind, I think has to be considered good.
Q: Ok, thank you very much for your time.
A: Thank you.
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